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Author Topic:   Paint vs. Gelcoat
project13 posted 04-09-2005 06:26 PM ET (US)   Profile for project13   Send Email to project13  
I am planning on having my 1978 13-foot Boston Whaler bot painted or perhaps re-gelcoated. I intend to entirely prepare the boat by removing all wood, hardware, bottom paint and rub rail. I will also be filling spider cracks and doing all fiberglass preparation. All the fiberglass guy will have to do is tape and spray the boat.

If I were to [instead refinish the hull] with paint, what paint should I consider? What should I expect to pay? I will not be using factory color so this is not a consideration.

If I go with gelcoat?

What are the pros and cons of each?

Thanks for your help.

jimh posted 04-09-2005 07:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
[I moved this article to the REPAIRS/MODS section because I could not see any possible answer which was not consistent with the purpose of the REPAIRS/MODS section, which is to provide advice on how to make repairs and modifications.]

When fiber reinforced plastic boats ("fiberglass boats") are made using female contact mold techniques, using a highly pigmented resin for the outer skin ("the gelcoat") is a very attractive technique for several reasons:

--gives nice color finish
--gives thick pigmented layer allowing imperfections from molding to buffed out without any additional refinishing
--relatively inexpensive and simple to spray into mold
--gives primary bonding to next layers of laminate if laid up before full cure.

If a boat were being built on a male contact mold, so that the outer hull skin was the last layer applied, I doubt that gelcoat resin would still be the choice, and, from what little I know of the boat building business, I don't think it is. Most of the time builders use a paint for finishing the hull which has not been laid up in a female contact mold.

With an existing boat, spraying gelcoat versus spraying paint is a choice made for other reasons than those mentioned above which make gelcoat so attractive to the original builder who molded the hull. In other words, all the advantages in favor of gelcoat are no longer obtained.

I don't know the cost comparison; it would depend on the choice of materials and the professional doing the job.

Multi-million dollar yachts are painted, not sprayed with pigmented resins, so there is no reason to think of paint as being inferior.

Binkie posted 04-09-2005 08:54 PM ET (US)     Profile for Binkie  Send Email to Binkie     
Don`t know about gel coating since I have never done it but as far as paint, the paint to use is Awlgrip. Get info on it online I`ve painted about seven boats with it and they all looked pristine. Its a two part polyester finish, mix is one to one. The cost of the top coat is about $50 to $70 per quart. I don`t know what they would charge to paint, but I`m sure it would be related to how much work there would be to do. If you give the painter a glass smooth finish to work with he would normally spray on 2 coats of 545 primer and two coats of finish paint. If you don`t have all the little marks and digs sanded out he`ll have to spray on a coat of high build primer first and then sand that down and then 2 coats of 545 primer. High build primer is even more expensive. By the way you can`t FILL spider cracks They are only in the gel coat, and you need to sand through the gel coat and they will disapear. The most importantant part of the job is the prep work, the sprqaying is easy. I am in the middle of prepping my 17` Cobia bass boat, (yes there other good boats) and I have so far put in 5 days of filling unwanted holes, and scratches and dig marks with Marine tex, sanding out spider cracks, and still have the bottom to go. After its all sanded, I`ll prime it with one coat of 545, and go over it and look for all the spots I missed, fix them and then put on the second coat of primer, sand that, and then spray on two coats of Materhorn White Awlgrip. No Cobia did not use metal flake paint on their bass boats.
17 bodega posted 04-11-2005 11:20 AM ET (US)     Profile for 17 bodega  Send Email to 17 bodega     
Thanks for that insight Binkie. Part of my concern with the spider cracks is that I will have to sand all the way to the chopped glass. I don't want to leave the layup so thin that is becomes structurally weak. I'm comprehending your statement to mean that sanding down to the glass is standard procedure.

do you fill the cracked areas with the marine tex? Do you use a faring compound or surfacing putty before moving to polyester resin or awlgrip? I have had some confusion on this procedure compared to the two main whaler repair articles in the reference section. I can see that folks have several different ways of accomplishing the final results.

For me, the main issue is the entire deck area of the boat, which is an old blue hull with significant cracking and crazing. My objective is the remove the cracking and protect the hull from further water intrusion.

I still haven't decided whether polyester resin, gelcoat, or a product like awlgrip is the right choice for my deck.

Thanks for any input.

Ethan posted 04-11-2005 06:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for Ethan  Send Email to Ethan     
I'm no chemist, and to be sure, I've done some not so smart things in my time. Having said that....

It's EXTREMELY dangerous to spray poly in a garage/home shop. When the paint atomizes, isocyanate is formed....if that's ringing a bell of recognition, it's because that stuff is a derivitive of CYANIDE.

Think I'm crazy? Go look at an Awlgrip/poly paint facility. You'll notice the full face, positive pressure respirators to start...then look around at the ventilation system. Ask to see the MSDS for the paint (or download them off the awlgrip website).

I think JimH's analysis of the pros/cons is pretty well thought out. What I would add is that gelcoat has an advantage to the do-it-yourself-er because you can get the sprayed on quality finish without near the health risk.

Counterpoit -Ask around; many folks will tell you that they got as good a finish with the "roll and tip" method using poly. I guess each individual has to be the judge when it comes to your personal boat.

Anyway, thought I'd pipe in due to the major health consequences of a bad decision.

For the technically interested/sceptical, I checked the above information with The Fiberglass Boat Repair Manual (Vaitses), Sailboat Refinishing (Casey), and the Awlgrip website.

Regards, Ethan

17 bodega posted 04-11-2005 08:18 PM ET (US)     Profile for 17 bodega  Send Email to 17 bodega     
Thanks for that. Are you saying polyester resin will give the brain damage? I have the full face respirator but I am skeptical about that too.

I hear the sanding of the coats is very toxic because the particles can wind up in your lungs. Are the $40 respirators at the paint shops good enough to protect you from this stuff?


project13 posted 04-11-2005 09:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for project13  Send Email to project13     
Thanks for all the good advise.

I would concur with Ethan. In asking around, there is basicly only one quality fiberglass shop in South Jersey for this reason. I do not have the confidence to try and do it myself paint or spray as I don't think it will yield the results I am looking for. I have an appointment to bring the boat over to this place Friday and see what they have to say.

I am interested to know what people think about the respiratiors though. I use a paper mask when compounding/waxing with a high speed buffer and have a respitator I would be wearing for the prep/sanding and I will be doing it outside. Is this safe? There should not be all that much sanding.

DWE posted 04-11-2005 10:12 PM ET (US)     Profile for DWE    
Obviously, wear a respirator. Do you know apple seeds contain cyanide, too?
Ethan posted 04-12-2005 01:22 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ethan  Send Email to Ethan     
A good quality respirator will give adequate protection when it comes to sanding dust. My understanding is that it's the atomization of the 2 part linear poly when put through a spray gun that introduces the isocyanates. I have been told several times that non-atomized poly (e.g.,brush application, sanding)is as safe as oil-based enamel. Am I going to hunker down and take a big, unprotected whiff of the stuff right out of the can? No - but I'm kind of conservative in that way.

What's a "good quality respirator"? Aw heck, I don't know - that question alone could be another thread with as many opinions as forum members. Is price indicative of quality? Again, that question is forum quicksand. I use a 3M 6800. It cost me just under $200 for the respirator and filters. I'm familiar with their product, know several pros who swear by their product, and have had good luck with them. I'm a miser in many areas, but personal safety isn't included on that list. I wanna be there, not mumbling into my drool cup and defecating myself, when my grandkids inherit my Whaler.

I am operating under the belief that a respirator with an organic filter that meets all the alphabet soup requirements is adequate. Personally, my research has convinced me that a respirator and good ventilation will suffice for epoxy (sanding and applying) and gelcoat (spraying and sanding).

Project13 - Seriously, look around. Lots of folks are very happy with their results from rolling and tipping poly. In fact, I'm in the middle of restoring a Boston Whaler Harpoon and plan to use rolled Awlgrip for the topcoat. Also, with a respirator, spraying gelcoat is ok. Keltonkrew did a FANTASTIC job on his 13' restoration and I believe he sprayed the gelcoat in his driveway/garage. Point is, you can save a lot of money (Awlgrip can run $150/foot of boat length professionally applied, and has to be redone every so often) and still be safe about it.

DWE - do you eat apple seeds? I don't. And I sure as hell ain't gonna atomize them and breath 'em now that I know they contain cyanide. I really hope you were just making an interesting point and not berating anyone for taking notice and asking questions. If I took your comment wrong, I apologize in advance.

Peace, Ethan

17 bodega posted 04-12-2005 01:51 AM ET (US)     Profile for 17 bodega  Send Email to 17 bodega     
Forgive my ignorance of boatyard terms (let me adjust my drool cup... ) but could you clarify tipping and rolling poly? It seems you are refering to awlgrip and not styrene polyester resin. I guess I'm confused about all the different products and abbreviations of them.

I was also going to warn Project 13 of having a professional outfit look at his boat. Figure 1-2 grand easy, mostly labor. That's probably why we see so many do it yourself boat repairs. I'm in way over my head as a poor working stiff. This is a rich mans sport. sigh.

Thanks Ethan for your help too. You obviously know this kind of work. I think the one spot that could use more coverage in the reference seciton is the process of removing spider cracking and avoiding water intrusion on older decks and hulls.

Ethan posted 04-12-2005 10:01 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ethan  Send Email to Ethan     
17 Bodega,

Sure - rolling and tipping is a process by which, after having prep'ed the hull as normal, one person rolls the poly on with a roller and a second person follows along behind and uses the tip of a brush to lightly smooth and "pop" the airbubbles left by the roller. I've seen 3 or 4 paint jobs done like this - 3 of them by 1st timers. All had very good results. 2 of the 4 you literally had to get your face right up to the hull to be able to see the occasional faint streak/brush line. From 4 feet away, all looked as if they'd been sprayed. No doubt about it - Awlgrip is good looking stuff! Check out the Casey book referenced in my 1st post - it has a pretty simple step by step procedure for the process and the book is pretty cheap ($12 or so?)

Take care, Ethan

project13 posted 04-12-2005 10:21 AM ET (US)     Profile for project13  Send Email to project13     
Thanks guys. I have a $40 generic respirator but I feel that for what I am doing it should suffice.

With boats, I tend to overdo it a bit. Every boat I have owned has turned into a total restoration project. I have budgetted around $2k for the paint job, but I am hoping that it will be less if I do all the prep. If it is wildly more than I think I will beging to look at doing it myself. It is not about the money but about having the perfect boat that is exactly what I want. If it was not for my wife, I would be restoring a 31 Bertram instead of a 13 Whaler (maybe I have a thing for Ray Hunt designed boats).

One more question, as far as paint goes, what about Imron vs. Awlgrip?

Robob2003 posted 04-12-2005 10:56 AM ET (US)     Profile for Robob2003  Send Email to Robob2003     
On a recent Shipshape TV show they rolled and tipped with a foam roller and a badger hair brush using what I remember as a Pettit two part product and the results were beautiful.

I would go that route since I am not an accomplished sprayer:-(

Bob on Tampa Bay

rtk posted 04-12-2005 11:37 AM ET (US)     Profile for rtk  Send Email to rtk     
A respirator will help, but the toxic chemicals can be absorbed through the skin also.

A full suit with a positive air feed to it is the safest way to play with this stuff, especially if you are spraying the material.

Obviously a purchase of this suit will make any do it yourself paint or gelcoat application cost prohibitive, so a good respirator and a Tyvek suit will have to do. Cover all exposed skin. If you have a beard it will reduce the effectiveness of the respirator. A couple of $20 window exhaust fans blowing outside should be used to ventilate the work space.

Awlgrip is a "no maintenance" finish. Once applied, no buffing or waxing, just wipe it clean. Imron can be buffed out after it is applied, and will require waxing as gelcoat does. Imron is a popular automotive paint, Awlgrip is the more popular marine paint. Imron must be sprayed, Awlgrip can be brushed, rolled or sprayed.


aquaman posted 04-13-2005 11:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for aquaman  Send Email to aquaman     
Several years back I rolled and tipped a 17' whaler with Sterling LP. My first attempt and it came out very well. It is important that if you roll and tip you use a badger hair brush, nice stiff bristles... Also, as I remember you tip in a vertical direction so you don't get a "hanger" in your paint. 99% of a good paint job is in the prep work.
starlight marine posted 04-15-2005 07:49 AM ET (US)     Profile for starlight marine  Send Email to starlight marine     
For goodness sake guys, wear a full suit and postive air feed mask. I've seen the guys who havn't in my business. No WHALER is worth what this stuff can do to you. The recomendation of the above by Rich is without question correct and even that is probably not enough. Read the can if you want to see what it's capable of . It makes one hell of finish yes but you have to be around to enjoy it. Have fun, Capt. T
jimh posted 04-15-2005 08:17 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I believe that if spraying on gelcoat resin which will be in contact with air, the resin will not cure properly. To overcome this I believe you must mix some additives with the gelcoat resin. I think the purpose of the additives is to form a skin layer on top of the resin, so that it will be isolated from contact with air and cure completely. My impression is these additives are some sort of wax which migrates to the surface and forms this isolating layer.

This problem does not exist in the female mold situation where the gelcoat layer is in contact with the mold and cures to a nice hard surface. It is another reason why gelcoat works so well in that situation.

randyt posted 04-15-2005 08:43 PM ET (US)     Profile for randyt  Send Email to randyt     
Check out System Three out of Auburn, Washington, they make a water based linear. I just got done re-painting my Revenge 22 and it looks pretty darn good and......I don't have spots or my hair falling out. Water based paints are the way it is going to be be within a few years and these guys seem to be ahead of the curve. After buying a $650 HVLP setup (not including the compressor) to apply the stuff, if I were to do it again, I would roll and tip. Randy
erik selis posted 04-16-2005 07:40 PM ET (US)     Profile for erik selis  Send Email to erik selis     
Here's an example of a 17-ft Guardian hull sprayed with Awlgrip paint.


HAPPYJIM posted 04-16-2005 07:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for HAPPYJIM  Send Email to HAPPYJIM     
Good looking color, Erik. What color is the inside going to be?
erik selis posted 04-16-2005 08:09 PM ET (US)     Profile for erik selis  Send Email to erik selis     

The inside will be light grey. I've added some pictures to the link above so you can have a look.


rtk posted 04-16-2005 09:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for rtk  Send Email to rtk     
That is a great paint job Erik. Awlgrip really is an excellent finish.

It is also very durable, and zero maintenance except for cleaning.

That is going to be a beautiful boat.


erik selis posted 04-17-2005 05:38 AM ET (US)     Profile for erik selis  Send Email to erik selis     
Thanks Rich, it is indeed going to be a beautiful boat. I can hardly wait to get the website up, documenting all the different steps of the restoration process. I have hundreds of pictures I have to filter out showing before-after results. The (new DF70 Suzuki) is going to be mounted next week. Little details, like the white decals (from Janis), are planned for this week. After we take her out on the water for a test run I'll be able to finish the restoration website and be able to share all info with the members here. Whatever people's opinions are about painting a Whaler I'm convinced that if painted and prepared in a professional manner, a painted Whaler can look beautiful and will surely be an eye-catcher.


redsnook16 posted 04-27-2005 08:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for redsnook16  Send Email to redsnook16     

I have a few ?'s. I am redoing my 16' whaler to make it look show room quaintly. When you sprayed the awlgrip did you us a hvlp or airless sprayer. Did you sand in between coats and how long did you wait in? Did it leave an orange pill effect? Thanks

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